Andhra Pradesh

TDP: Telugu Modi

Print edition : May 02, 2014

N. Chandrababu Naidu, president of the TDP, faces angry supporters after he decided on an alliance with the BJP. Photo: Mohammed Yousuf

STITCHING together grand pre-election alliances has been Telugu Desam Party (TDP) supremo N. Chandrababu Naidu’s forte for the better part of his over-three-decade-long political career. The 2014 round of Assembly and Lok Sabha elections has been no different: a sense of desperation to become Chief Minister and play a key role in national politics after a decade of being out of power seems to have driven him to shed his party’s secular moorings and strike an alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for the second time after 1999. Given the failure of the attempts at building a third alternative and the fact that anti-Congressism is at the TDP’s core, the party did not have a choice, according to Chandrababu Naidu.

He justified his decision to go with the BJP as being “in the interest of the nation and to rescue it from the corrupt and inefficient rule of the Congress”. He expects the relationship to benefit Telugus both in Telangana and in Andhra Pradesh (the Rayalseema and coastal Andhra regions, which are jointly known as Seemandra) when they become a reality on June 2 as the “NDA is all set to return to power at the Centre with 300-plus seats”.

The alliance with the BJP fructified after some hard bargaining that saw Prakash Javadekar, the BJP leader in charge of Andhra Pradesh, making several trips to Hyderabad. The alliance was jointly announced by Chandrababu Naidu and Javadekar on April 6, with the BJP contesting 47 of the 119 Assembly seats and eight of the 17 Lok Sabha seats in Telangana and 15 of the 175 Assembly seats and five of the 25 Lok Sabha seats in Seemandhra. Apparently, the BJP buckled under pressure from Chandrababu Naidu, who is seriously bidding for power in Seemandhra.

As expected, the deal sparked off trouble in both parties. In the TDP, Zahed Ali Khan, polit bureau member and editor of Siasat, a mass-circulation Urdu daily , resigned and party supporters gathered in protest in front of Chandrababu Naidu’s residence in Hyderabad. In the BJP, there were angry protests in front of the party office, and State BJP chief G. Kishen Reddy skipped the joint press conference. He had been for the party going it alone, “capitalising on the Modi wave”. He argued that the party should build and strengthen itself instead of becoming a junior partner of the TDP.

But in the central BJP leadership’s calculation, going with Chandrababu Naidu had three distinct advantages. Besides improving its tally, it would regain a reliable ally, as he proved to be in the 1999-2004 period, and, more importantly, help the party get rid of its untouchable status in the south.

Evidently, both parties look forward to repeat their performance of 1999 when the TDP’s 36 MPs helped the NDA storm to power. Chandrababu Naidu seems least worried about the effect the alliance will have on the minority vote of around 12 per cent in the State, that is, in terms of increasing Muslims’ sense of insecurity. The alliance looks to be a calculated and conscious decision taken by the TDP purely for electoral and incremental gains in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. In fact, there was never any consistency in the TDP’s stand towards other parties. Chandrababu Naidu wore “secularism” on his sleeve when it suited him and dumped it when it became inconvenient. From taking the Left parties on board initially to switching to the Right in the late 1990s and then returning to the former in 2009, his pre-election rainbow coalitions smacked of opportunism. After he lost power in 2004, he blamed his party’s alliance with the “communal BJP” for the debacle and even sought Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s ouster for the 2002 riots. He lost no opportunity to regret his alliance with the BJP and consciously cultivated the Muslim community, even by announcing 4 per cent reservation for its members in government jobs and educational institutions.

By the 2009 Assembly and Lok Sabha elections, he had become “secular” enough to stitch together a “grand alliance” with the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS), the Communist Party of India and the Communist Party of India (Marxist). But the electorate rejected him yet again. This time too, he is in an alliance, but with the BJP, the Lok Satta, and the Jana Sena launched by the Telugu film star Pawan Kalyan, brother of the film actor and Union Minister K. Chiranjeevi. Pawan Kalyan is seen as the best bet to attract the youth and defeat the YSRCongress in Seemandhra.

‘Telugu pride’

“Telugu Pride” was the slogan on which N.T. Rama Rao founded the TDP and stormed to power nine months later in January 1983. It survived many a political crisis, the biggest being in August 1984 when NTR was unseated in a coup by his lieutenant, Nadendla Bhaskara Rao. NTR took the battle of his dismissal to the people and forced Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to reinstate him a month later. He became the rallying point for non-Congress parties in the post-Janata Party experiment period. The TDP played a key role in putting three non-Congress governments at the Centre: the United Front, the National Front and then the NDA.

After its amazing performance in the 1983 Assembly and 1984 Lok Sabha elections, the TDP tasted its first defeat in the 1989 Assembly elections. But it bounced back in 1994 and remained in power until 2004 when the Congress under the leadership of Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy returned to power.

The TDP is banking on its hold over the Backward Classes vote in Telangana and has even decided to project a B.C. leader as the party’s chief ministerial candidate. In Seemandhra, the party hopes to consolidate the Kamma and the over 20 per cent Kapu vote, encouraged by the migration of several MPs and MLAs belonging to these castes from the Congress to the TDP. The party’s strategy in Telangana appears ambitious as Chandrababu Naidu’s policy of demanding “equal justice to” both regions and his last-minute lobbying against the division has not gone down well in the region. His attempts prompted the TRS to call it “Andhra party”, attracting about a dozen TDP MLAs to it.

The first formidable regional party to rise in Andhra Pradesh, the TDP now has little room to manoeuvre as the TRS and the Congress vie with each other to claim credit for fulfilling the dream of a separate Telangana. The party’s desperation to seek an alliance with the BJP and the importance it has accorded to the B.Cs have to be understood in this context.

It is speculated that if Chandrababu Naidu comes to power in Seemandhra, he will simply replicate the Gujarat model of development. He had claimed during the run-up to the elections that Modi was doing now what he himself had done a decade ago.

Indeed, he revelled in being called the poster boy for the neoliberal policies and reforms implemented at the instance of multilateral funding agencies. He was among the first to set up a disinvestment commission, which sold away for a pittance the public sector Nizam Sugar Factories; he banned recruitment in government service and introduced the contract system. He also resorted to a steep hike in power tariffs as a part of the reforms.

Even after he was rejected twice by the people, it does not seem that Chandrababu Naidu has learnt his lesson. He continues to talk big about reforms and privatisation, the only difference being that he is offering loan waivers to farmers.

He implemented with gusto any scheme recommended by the World Bank, including the controversial introduction of meters to record water used in irrigation canal systems. He took pride in being invited to the World Economic Forum and in inviting former U.S. President Bill Clinton and Microsoft’s Bill Gates to Hyderabad, but never took responsibility for the neglect of agriculture and the farmer suicides this led to. Much like Modi, he too hired a professional public relations agency to boost his image. Modi and Chandrababu Naidu look like mirror images. No surprise then that his supporters have coined a new slogan, “Modi there and Naidu here”.

K. Venkateshwarlu

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